I'm not sure if there's a movie that might be more suited for a child-exclusive audience than Gulliver's Travels, with the story being made and remade through the years. And for whatever reason, Jack Black (Kung Fu Panda) decided to chime in with his own version of the Jonathan Swift book. The first I'd heard about it was a less than positive reception to some test footage at the 2010 Comic-Con. So maybe they worked on it between then and December, who knows?
Regardless of the work, Joe Stillman (Planet 51) and Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to The Greek) co-wrote the adaptation and Rob Letterman (Monsters vs. Aliens) directed. As Lemuel Gulliver, Black is a long-time mailroom employee for a newspaper, comfortable in his position and might have even peaked professionally, despite his recent aspirations for a better job to be closer to the travel editor Darcy (Amanda Peet, 2012). Darcy is so impressed by his initial writing submission she gives him an assignment to go down to the Bermuda Triangle to write on some long-lost islands in the area. Through mystical circumstance he's swept to Lilliput, where he is a giant among small people, gains the ire of General Edward (Chris O'Dowd, Dinner for Schmucks), who imprisons him next to Horatio (Jason Segel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), who is a Lilliputian but had feelings for the princess (played by Emily Blunt, The Wolfman), daughter of the empire and Edward's love interest. The Lilliputians put much trust and faith in Gulliver's tall (no pun intended) tales of being President in his homeland, but Edward soon develops a plan designed to win back the love of the princess (despite her feelings for Horatio) and the respect of the King to help keep the land safe.
Black is a sad case of what happens when you don't decide to take risks earlier in your career. One of the things that made Tropic Thunder so brilliant is that (knowingly or not) Black was parodying his career to a certain extent, playing the same portly guy that he's done over the last decade for hollow laughs and no respect. Consider that similar comedians in Black's mold have taken chances in other films earlier in their careers (Zach Galifianakis comes to mind, and Robin Williams before either of them), and those dramatic chances have seemingly improved those actors' performances. Here we get more Jack Black chicanery, surrounded by a LOT of shirtless shots and laughs that, well, just aren't laughs. Maybe he doesn't realize that he's the joke, come to think of it.
Compounding things, Segel is utterly wasted in his role. The guy is funny is his own right, and he's saddled with what appears to be little improvisation and a British accent that would make Kevin Costner stand up and take notice. When I first saw Segel I really did think he could make the rest of the film watchable, and yet I was wrong. Blunt is a fine actress in her own right, but most of her scenes made me realize she's just trying to keep her head down and not get noticed. As the antagonist O'Dowd is decent, and trying when you don't have a lot in the tank is admirable, but making a robot to combat Gulliver's size that looks an awful lot like any of the things in Wild Wild West is sad and insulting.
I'm not sure of a better way to sum up Gulliver's Travels. A few people have cited Joe Lo Truglio, whose appearances in films like Role Models and Superbad have led up to him being accidentally inserted up the gargantuan arse of Gulliver. But for me, it's a scene not much past that in the first act, when a panicked Gulliver urinates on a burning Lilliputian building and eventually and accidentally on Edward. Black was less pissing on a burning building and doing it both to Swift's story and to any sane moviegoer. For that, one comes a zombie Jonathan Swift comes back to take what's left of Jack Black's brains. "Comedy fun" indeed.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Gulliver's Travels is presented in 2.35:1 high-definition widescreen using the AVC codec, and I was expecting a little sharper presentation than what appears here. Don't get me wrong, the Victorian-esque British exterior sequences that double for Lilliput are beautiful, with lush greens around the estates. Many of the effects shots look cheesy and you can see the haloing/effects seams of a gigantic Jack Black against the Lilliputians. Blacks provide a decent contrast and skin tones look good, and image detail is discernible not entirely consistent. At the end of the day it looks good, but could look better.
The DTS-HD Master Audio lossless surround has a few immersive experiences within the film's 85 minutes, starting with Gulliver travelling on the rough seas in the Bermuda triangle before he winds up in Lilliput. Low-end activity is ample and provides a bit of rumble through the soundstage, and in a later moment when Gulliver is called into fight the Lilliputians' main rivals, directional effects are clear and channel panning is effective puts you in the middle of the action. Even many of his actions in quieter moments have an occasional LFE spike here and there. Dialogue is a little inconsistent but overall this is a strong soundtrack.
There are a fair amount of extras, though I'd categorize them as "numerous without being informative." Starting things off is "I Don't Know...With Lemuel Gulliver" (5:15), a piece that spoofs on the old In Search Of television show from the '70s where the character interviews himself. Oddly enough, it was actually pretty good until Black started talking. The "gag reel" (1:28) is composed of one sequence in the Caribbean where Black drops his pants literally, as opposed to the 85 minutes he spent doing it cinematically. There are eight deleted scenes (15:12) which flush out the Horatio character a little more and are cool, and there's a sequence where we see Clarke Peters, a.k.a. Lester Freamon from the HBO show The Wire. For my money though, a fight between Black and an actor in a blue skintight suit might have been the funniest sequence in the movie and should have been included as is.
Next up is Little and Large (8:14), which looks at the ability to shoot Black on set and the previsualization and visual effects required to make the gigantic Black come to life. "Jack Black Thinks Big" (5:59) looks at Gulliver's attempted to modernize Lilliput, from buildings to people and the production design helps illustrate this. "Downtime" (4:24) shows the cast reflecting on the between-takes goofing around, while "Gulliver's Foosball Challenge" is a set-top game using the Lilliputians, similar to what was in the movie. The "War Song Dance" (5:45) shows us Black's vocal talents, and in the first of two pieces produced by Fox Movie Channel named "In Character," Black discusses his thoughts on the story (spoiler alert: he was offered the role and no script existed) and what he thought of the source material (6:30). A second piece centers on Segel and what he thought of the story and role (4:52). "Life After Film School" (21:52) is another FMC piece where three college students interview Letterman, discuss his previous work and approaches to it, along with the obligatory questions about Gulliver's Travels. Red carpet footage from the film's premiere is next (6:02), along with the trailer (2:22) and some instructions on using the Digital Copy, provided you're one of those who hasn't utilized those yet.
Additionally there are three BD-Live extras on the disc, starting with the exclusive "Jack and Jason's Dance Class," which is a three-minute long look at Black and Segel's mutual admiration for one another. The trailer is included again, along with a clip from "Little and Large." Fox also decided to include a standard definition copy of the film on a second disc, with a third being the digital copy to your computing/electronic device of choice.
It's strange that a movie can be an affront to my sensibilities and a test of my senses, but I sat through Gulliver's Travels without wanting to stick a fork in the eyes of those who made it. Rather, I wanted to have a stern word with those who gave these people tens of millions to make this. As a family film it's neither enjoyable nor funny, so what's the point in watching it? There is none and as such, skip seeing this unless you want harm on your enemies.